Mass transfer limitations at crystallizing interfaces in an atomic force microscopy fluid cell: A finite element analysis

David Gasperino, Andrew Yeckel, Brian K. Olmsted, Michael D. Ward, Jeffrey J. Derby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although atomic force microscopy (AFM) has emerged as the preeminent experimental tool for real-time in situ measurements of crystal growth processes in solution, relatively little is known about the mass transfer limitations that may impact these measurements. We present a continuum analysis of flow and mass transfer in an atomic force microscope fluid cell during crystal growth, using data acquired from calcium oxalate monohydrate (COM) crystal growth measurements as a comparison. Steady-state flows and solute concentration fields are computed using a three-dimensional, finite element method implemented on a parallel supercomputer. Steady-state flow results are compared with flow visualization experiments to validate the model. Computations of the flow field demonstrate how nonlinear momentum transport alters the spatial structure of the flow with increasing flow volume, altering mass transport conditions near the AFM cantilever and tip. The simulations demonstrate that the combination of solute depletion from crystal growth and mass transfer resistance lowers the solute concentration in the region between the tip and the crystal compared with the solute concentration at the inlet of the AFM cell. For example, using experimentally measured growth rates for COM, the solute concentration in this region is 3.1% lower than the inlet value because the solute consumed by crystal growth beneath the AFM tip cannot be replenished fully due to mass transport limitations. The simulations also reveal that increasing the flow rate through the cell does not affect this difference significantly because of the inherent shielding by the AFM tip in proximity with the crystal surface. Models such as the one presented here, used in conjunction with AFM measurements, promise more precise interpretations of measurement data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6578-6586
Number of pages9
Issue number15
StatePublished - Jul 18 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Materials Science
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Surfaces and Interfaces
  • Spectroscopy
  • Electrochemistry


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